Robed Man #6
Everything changed when I brought Javier that notebook.
He never left his room. The door is always shut, and never respond to a call or knock. No calls from him, no texts- he dropped from the world. I would wait hours by his door, hearing the shuffling on the other side, moving from book to book, scribbling on paper. The typing I hear is slow, like he’s unsure of himself. I should have known this would happen when he got it, but I didn’t realize the campus would change too.
Ian started killing people.
Powers or no powers- people fled from him. I didn’t see it, but you can only see the YouTube video so many times before you feel like you lived it. I knew things were different after watching it for the third time on Li’s phone. She covered her eyes and wept, but I couldn’t look away. The video started to auto-play, but neither of his touched it.
The dorms evacuated when Ian attacked the building. I heard the bang, but I figured it was students doing dumb shit. The screams made the different. I got up to see students float to the ground, being carried by men in this weird black and white hooding. If that wasn’t weird enough, I watched Ian fly away. He didn’t jump or ran away. He actually flew away.
He figured it out.
This is what Javier was talking about. He missed all of this because he was still working on it. I couldn’t force him out. There’s a hole in the side of our dorm building, but he didn’t budge. Maybe he did because we can’t see the dorm. I stared it long after we left. Li had to pull me from my trance. Police escorted us away because of the fear of the building integrity.
“How did he kill those cops?
“Fuck.” She looks up. “Wait, how? He wasn’t there. He shouldn’t be able to do that.”
“I know, but listen- he was trying to figure them out.”
“He believed you could get powers without the chemicals.”
“How do you know this?”
“Javier’s doing the same thing.”
I couldn’t recognize the twisting of his face. I’m not one to read emotions, but this anger confuses me, or least I think it’s anger. Her mouth hangs and nostrils flare, and she shifts his gaze from me.
“You never stopped talking to him.”
She looks back to me, and then to the rest of the room- the other students, the police. She’s looking for an answer until she refocuses on me.
“Tell me you didn’t help Ian.”
“I didn’t help Ian.”
“Are you lying?”
“I didn’t help Ian. Look, I know helping Javier isn’t good, but it’s not the same thing.” I give myself some time to gather my thought. “I wouldn’t help him, not after what he’s done.”
“I mean, you might have already. He literally just killed those cops.”
“He’s killed before.”
“What? Before tonight?” She tilts her head. “How do you know?”
“I was there.”
Her fist slams into my arm. The pain shoots up immediately. She punches again, and again until the numbness of the spot tingles to my fingers.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen!” Defending myself was reflexive, even though I knew I didn’t have a case. “Getting his notebook away from him should have delayed this craziness.”
“Or jumpstarted it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t, but that doesn’t matter now.” Li sighs, then looks up. “Whatever comes next, you have to fix it.”
“How do I fix it?”
Trying to imagine why Eva acted the way she did lingers in my mind- the scenario plays back often as I try to sleep. Sometimes it’s easier to think that she knew him, maybe even intimately. I didn’t always watch her when she left the campus. She could have easily seen someone else. If she wanted someone else, at her school or even here, there’s no reason she wouldn’t have made a choice. Being direct is a part of her core, and nothing could stop her, but the answer is that she saw him- no, people in trouble, and she went to go help. She embodied courage, even at the end.
Do I want to fix this?
Back in the dorm, we conferred in my room.
“You have to come back.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Another incident like this? I’m surprised it hasn’t started already. A lot of people died, and we’re going to get another break.”
“Will the school even be open?”
She’s right- a mess festered on this campus, and I contributed to it. Being a part of the solutions seems…unlikely but doesn’t trying is impossible. Eva would try.
“Do you have a plan?” I’m sure she had something.
“Not to turn you into the police.”
“What?” The question erupted and I’m standing, trying to calm myself down.
“Relax” she responds. “It was a joke. Half-joke.”
“I didn’t hurt anybody. I was there after the fact.”
“Regardless, if I don’t say anything after you told me about it, I’m a corroborator. I’d be going to jail too, so thanks.” That made me sit down. “I have to at least think about it if that’s a realistic outcome.”
“I don’t want you to go to jail, Li.”
“Me either.” She starts to chew on her fingernail, her thumb pressing on her lip. “I don’t like this friendship stress test you’re putting me through.”
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“Let’s just focus on getting back to campus, regardless if it’s open or not. We need to have eyes on Javier.”
“He’s still here.”
“And from the smell coming from his room, he’s not going anywhere.”
My parents are happy to see me home. Home cooked meals, the comfort of my old room, and no responsibility for the new few days welcome a needed break from the last few months. The thought of Eva’s parents interceded my comfort. I must see them, and soon, because with more news coming from this recent massacre will make them think on their loss.
“Mom, I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going, honey? We just brought you back.”
Looking up at her, she doesn’t get it right away. When she does, he faces drops, and she rubs her arm, trying to warm her body as the thought of death chilled her. They never knew how to bring up Eva, so they avoided it. I wanted to speak on it more, because I knew I needed to speak on it, but they couldn’t handle it. They shift to thoughts of if it were me that died, and then the conversations change, or abandon it all together. Dinners were left cold as we all left to confide in another room.
“I’ll be back soon.”
“Jimmy,” Eva’s mom always puts on a strong demeanor. “Could you pass the butter?”
She was having dinner when I knocked on the door. She welcomed me in, bright as she could be with a warm smile and hug. Happy to see me, she offered some food, which I always had to accept. I was conditioned by many visits to the family. It has become a second home.
“How are you?”
“As good as I could be.”
“Even with the latest news?”
“I think the emotional callus is getting thick.”
“I’m glad you’re handling everything, but don’t forget to reach out. You parents, us- we want to hear from you, and know you’re okay.”
“Even Mr. Torres?”
Her face dims.
He’s tried to match his wife’s hospitality, but he couldn’t hide the resentment. I’ve heard them argument about it the times where civility became an issue for him. A snark comment would make an appearance that he would apologize for, but he would always excuse himself. I would try to leave, but Mrs. Torres refused to let me leave worried or angry. She has a commanding presence, and I know where Eva got it from.
“Even Mr. Torres. He’s hurt, we both are, and I don’t want you think we don’t miss her. We do, she’s something we’re never replace.”
She rebounded after the funeral. Both couldn’t stand the sight of me. After Eva was laid to rest, it was obvious that I would never see the Torres family again. A few days Mrs. Torres invited me over for dinner. I tried to decline, but she was very adamant. I accepted and tried to consult with my folks, but they couldn’t help. I showed up and planned to make a stop by whenever I could.
“She’s a hero, Mrs. Torres.”
“She’s so much more than that.”
Her husband enters. He doesn’t look over but grabs a water bottle out of the fridge. Mrs. Torres keeps focused on me until her husband stops in the entrance way.
“It’s your fault she’s gone.”
“No, Maria.” He turns and I can see the rage in his face. “If he wasn’t at that school, forcing her to constantly go see him.”
“She would always call us on the road, trying to keep herself entertained during the ride, and I panicked when I didn’t get that call that night.”
“Go back to the living room.”
He inches towards.
“You took her from us.”
“Sir, I didn’t-”
He squeezes the water bottle, and water drips on his hands.
“You had no right, and you took her.”
“It wasn’t my fault, I-”
He crushes it, and water splashes on the floor.
“Don’t tell me it wasn’t your-”
Hands slam on the table, ringing loud through the house. Mrs. Torres neck pulses and her face reddens has she demands order back into her house.
“Take your water.” She yells. “Go!” She points to the living room, and Mr. Torres backs away from the table. His eyes are filled with hate, eyes that I’ve seen before. Not on him, but someone back on the campus. He exits.
Mrs. Torres is already up, cleaning the water off the floor with a dish towel. She stands, fling the rag on her shoulder and turns to me.
“You want anymore food?”
Back at home, I realize my next challenge is to find a way to go back, after all the things at the campus. Even if I do convince them, do I really want to go back? I could easily never see Li again, transfer to a different school, or just find a way to make life work without any of the other options. I don’t have to do anything at the campus ever again.
“Wait…you want to go back?” My mom hangs open, looks towards my dad for support. She gets it.
“There’s no way you’re going back.”
“But I have to.”
The path is clear. I tell them everything. I mention Ian. I bring up Javier. I tell them what I know, how I am a part of the process to stop it. The silence speaks to the how they feel. My father wanders off in fantasies about my incarceration while my mom just panics.
“Can’t we just go to…” Her voice trails as she realizes what happened to the policemen on campus. She cries.
“I can’t say that I caused any of the chaos, but I contributed to it. Nobody us knows what I know.” Except Li. “I have to see this through, and if anything…I can be the first person to get the story.”
“That’s not your issue.”
“But I’m the only one that can warn people if something like this ever happens again!”
My dad just looks at me. He’s still thinking of jail. I wish that was the only thing I worry about, and even if it was a real concern, all the deaths that happened the following day overshadows my tampering. There was only one arrest that day.
“If the school opens again, I need to be there.”
“Are you sure?” It’s the first time my dad has spoken after my explanation.
“How can you entertain this?” My mom’s worry continues. “You’re not going back!”
“Mom, if I don’t know this, and more people die? That’s on me. I really mean it. I may have created another Ian, and please, don’t force me to not try to fix this.”
“What makes you think you can?”
Looking at Mom was hard- tears in her eyes, face red from yelling both at me and Dad. My father’s eyes look down at his hands, wishing he had answers to whatever’s going through his son’s head. My mom waits for an answer to all the million questions in her mind. I can’t answer all of them, but I do have one.
“I have to try.”
“Because Eva would have.”